Cold Snaps: a review of No Moon by Julie Reverb
By Jesse Kohn.
Julie Reverb, No Moon (Calamari Archive, Ink., 2015)
Both as an experiment in criticism and to demonstrate just how packed full of oomph are the pages, how consistently flexed the pen, of Julie Reverb’s No Moon, the very spaces between words of which seem teaming with raw meanings—my usual pre-review-writing reading method of marking just the juiciest parts proving, for instance, pretty useless for anything other than mucking up every carefully-crafted margin (upon which you’ll find pictured a black sphere, a moon waning as the pages turn toward the center and waxing from then on to the end)—I’ll just flip about at random and see where I land.
He reckoned that stray day-tripper dads could be reeled from dry wives and kept in the cinema’s seats by raunch and rollerskating skill.
Good enough a place to start as any. ‘He,’ here, is Billy, “all crags, spikes and shakes,” as Reverb paints him early on, but “a soft sort really. A quiet type. He smudges his hologram self against office workers and adult cinema exiters.” The ‘raunch and rollerskating skill’ Billy hopes will reel in the dads are to be supplied by Lucy, erotic dancer with big dreams, star attraction of her family’s sordid cinema, now in economic peril on account of changing tastes, a sadist landlord, Lucy’s absent dad, the literally hieroglyphic bookkeeping methods left behind him (“cos vowels have no meaning … whatever that means”), and a quickly deteriorating, “cigarette bouquet”-smoking mum. Billy’s fallen hard for Lucy and sees his salvation in her reciprocation of his feeling:
He wonders will his stools be firmer now; he won’t have to hide or stoop or smudge himself, folding paper like confessions. The greatest want rests in his lap.
But to be really saved Billy must first save the cinema. This he undertakes by revamping its attractions. So much the better if, in the process, or so he hopes, he can help his treasured Lucy realize her dream of being a rollerskating star. Luckily, Billy is always full of ideas—he was, after all, or claims to have been the inventor of that “‘people who bought this book also bought’ recommendation” that Amazon uses to loop in consumers. Some favorites in a long list of Billy’s proposals for the cinema include: “Weeping Lipizanners rearing up into fat hearts,” “desserts on fire,” “crying girl cabaret,” “the erotica of women providing for their futures,” “Lucy in a cage,” “Marilyn mouthing ‘help’ at JFK,” and much, much more. For her part, Lucy’s hopeful, but far from optimistic:
She does not want to be pinned, pressed among promised hurts that fall in sequence. She sees pain as a family crest in stained glass, glinting pitfalls that confront. There’s only so much inverted yearning she can take—the rest just disgusts.
In the unlikely event it isn’t clear, Julie Reverb can write a mean fucking sentence.
Another flip through the pages lands us on:
Surgical storms localized and jaws dripping the devil leapt up in a red room the fur made him soundproof I never throw anyone out tie them up and put them down in the bloody boiler house til I’m ready for em
Mad Sinbad’s a bad man, the sort of bad that doesn’t get much air time in fiction written this well these days. Sinbad, strongman and club owner, is back in town after a stint in prison and settling scores—Billy, having played some hazy role in the thug’s recent trouble with the law, is high up on that list. Violent, dumb, and powerful, Sinbad shadows our actors like a skin head grim reaper, part Mephistopheles, part Kramer—spoiling a touristing couple’s bourgie evening, for instance, like a cringe-worthy comedian, blind to social cues, imposing, and terribly tactless:
“Can we leave now please? While he’s at the bar.”
“Marion, he’s buying us drinks. And he’ll see us. It’ll be awkward.”
“I don’t care. I just wanted a quiet evening.”
“Shhh, You’re the one who invited him to sit down.”
“I only said there was no one sitting there.”
“You did smile though.”
“I was just being polite—it wasn’t an invitation. I’m meant to be on holiday. He keeps spitting on my face. He knows he’s doing it … I’m going back to read now so give me the key.”
“Alright Marge! Where you going? At least you’re smiling doll.”
“Oh nowhere, just to the ladies.”
“Don’t be too long … karaoke’s on in a bit. Elton John and Kiki Di eh? You and me. He’s been in the club, don’t mind him being a poof. Nice fella, fond of the ol’ sniff sniff …”
Heavy handed and lightly scrupled, Sinbad, post-prison, means business: “No razzmatazz—less softly softly—his gob’s slabs would not shy from blood’s hard stain.” Brutal, too, Reverb doesn’t shy from much either, neither from commandeering the tongue—repurposing verbs, or forcing ordinarily unfriendly words into cozy quarters—nor flying in the face of our pop subtle-and-ambiguous-revelations aesthetics, letting the bad be unambiguously bad, the smut smut, the story unabashedly roaring. Even amid long, punctuationless passages that drift unmoored from referents, unhitched to a specific voice or a particular scene, Reverb’s taut plot threads tighten as the margin moons shrink and swell. However much the story seems to duck under the syntactic spells that spew around it, the drama somehow only, sometimes imperceptibly, buds. Sometimes you won’t know how till much later:
An eyeless spy hides. He’s seen the end so rests his head against a dead fox, Old fur warms even ghosts’ stubborn skin. He keeps his breath gilled—silent—above uncracked bone. He wonders why he bothers when there’s nothing to guess, no outcome unknown.
Which opens into dramas, which might tend melo- under a softer pen, but are stately, grim, gross, and nightmarish here, torqued up to Brecht and Weill proportions precisely by those guttural flourishes and floor-stomping pulses and ice cold snaps which dress in mad jazz this misfit, runaway story strutting down the pages in torn up and re-sutured English.
And English this is, English with all its crudeness, serrated coarseness, and sudden edges aroused and exposed, the English we forget we live in, English we get mushed up in, districted in, haunted, hunted, beat, and butchered by. It is an English, Reverb assures us, unfit for feeding whatever we think we ought to have been:
The truth about you could only be stomached by early man in ae chunks, when there was nothing hard to say, nothing aflame on the tip of the tongue. It got swallowed whole without tearing. Early man was an antebellum sort with a singing sky at the back of his mouth … It was all song; sonorous circles lifted from birds. There were no cuts, no consonants, no closures. The sounds were the soft underbelly of a mother’s tongue.
Which Reverb clashes with what sounds we’ve got now:
Our consonants carried further cold snaps that pushed us on. They were finer, gristled. Dry animal sounds, the blockage of breath with the negative at work.
But Lucy and Billy teach us how to sing in this climate, even if it’s a swan’s song, and instead of rearing Lipzanner’s we can, like Billy, only afford dying donkeys. No matter. No Moon guides us to gaudily doll those donkeys up, to rollerskate nude through our familial strip clubs, fashion smoke-machines from our chain-smoking mothers, beat the demons to their own threats to burn us with flames of our own. One last flip through and I’ll leave you:
Sometimes, tissues jerk like Titanic farewells. There are no proud here, or they soon forget. Age is a thing built on forgetting—its skeleton a stumbling momentum.
I remember when there was flesh, and I remember for those who do not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Kohn‘s fiction has appeared in Spork Press, Sleepingfish, The Atlas Review, Everyday Genius, SAND Journal, and elsewhere. He has contributed essays and interviews to The Rumpus, Quarterly Conversation, BOMB, Bookslut, H
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, October 6th, 2015.